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The traditional roots of Hawaiian slack key guitar playing is preserved through the music of Ray Kane (born: Raymond Kaleoalohapoina'oleohelemanu Kane). Although he didn't begin playing music professionally until he was in his forties, Kane has more than make up lost time. His concerts and recordings have been cherished by fans of traditional Hawaiian music and have helped the slack key style to grow in global popularity. Kane has been surprized by the attention he's gotten for his playing. In a mid-1970s interview, Kane explained, "I don't know why they picked me. I wasn't famous. I wasn't playing anywhere. I was just trying to stick to the style I learned back in the 1930s."
The stepson of a fisherman, Kane grew up in Nanakuli on the island of O'ahu. Music seems to have been in his blood. His natural father, who deserted his family when Kane was two years old, is remembered as a talented slack key guitarist. On his mother's side, Kane is related to such musicians as Andy Cummings, Geonoa Kearve, Marlene Sai and Mekia Kealaki.
Eager to learn to play the guitar, Kane traded fish that he got from a local fisherman for lessons. As a youngster, he was heavily influenced by the playing of Henry Kapuana and the songs that he heard on the radio.
Enlisting in the military, Kane traveled to Europe and the Mainland United States during the 1940s. Although he had given up the guitar for several years, he was inspired by the early recordings of influential slack key player Gabby Pahinui to pick up the instrument again.
While he recorded for the Tradewinds label in 1961, Kane had no illusions of making a living with his music. Working as a welder during the week, he limited his playing to the weekends.
A turning point in Kane's musical career came in the 1970s. In the midst of a revival of the slack key tradition in Hawaii, Kane performed a series of concerts produced by the Hawaiian Music Foundation. With his virtuosic, nahenahe (relaxing), style of playing balanced by a strong sense of humor, Kane became a much-in-demand performer. Although health problems limited his schedule in the late-1970s, he resumed playing and teaching in the 1980s. In 1987, Kane received a National Endowment for the Arts Folk Heritage Fellowship.